Featured Author: Ian Ostrander

PSQ prides itself on publishing scholarship created by the best and brightest in their respective fields. To highlight some of these exciting contributors and provide an in-depth look at the broader work our authors do, we bring you our Featured Author interview series

Ian Ostrander is assistant professor of Political Science at Michigan State University. He received his Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis in 2013 while also serving as a 2012-2013 APSA Congressional Fellow, working in the U.S. Senate. His research interests center on American political institutions with an emphasis on the U.S. presidency, Congress, bureaucracy, and the interaction of all three. The topics of his publications include: presidential signing statements, delays in the executive nominations process, and the development of Senate procedure.

What made you interested in this subject?
My coauthor (Joel Sievert) and I started working together on presidential signing statements while in graduate school. During the last years of the George W. Bush administration, signing statements were becoming a topic of interest for presidential and congressional scholars. We were intrigued by the inter-branch aspects of the literature on signing statements and chose to write a conference piece on the topic. After coding our own data set of over 1,000 statements, we were hooked on the topic and have since written four articles together on the subject. Of particular interest were questions over what exactly constituted a unilateral presidential power and we were also particularly interested in how and when presidents defended their institutional boundaries.

How do you think your work on this article will guide you in your future research?
While our article suggests that presidential signing statements have recently become a significantly smaller part of the legislative-executive dialogue over boundaries, we fully expect the conversation to continue in other places. In particular, we see profit in examining other instances of bill-specific presidential-congressional communication such as veto messages and statements of administration policy. Furthermore, this article has added to a growing list of examples of when, where and how Congress may curtail executive authority through the use of hearings or through adaptation. Overall, I believe that working on this article has strengthened my interest in the dynamics of inter-branch conflict which I intend to pursue in future research beyond presidential signing statements.

What kind of response do you hope your work elicits from your readers?  Ideally, what kind of critical thought do you hope your article inspires?
One of the more interesting aspects of the article to me is that it places attention on how presidential tools may be set aside or wear out over time. While most work on presidential power tends to focus on the generation of new abilities and authority, it is also the case that once commonly used tools decline. Theoretically, examples of declining presidential powers may be as important as, and indeed related to, the generation of new presidential powers over time. It is my hope that the article elicits interest from the readers to pursue similar research on other once-common presidential powers.
In terms of presidential signing statements, it is my hope that this article generates more critical thought on how signing statements are used and why. In particular, intuitions created on data more than a decade ago about how often presidents use signing statements may no longer apply. Furthermore, the shift of constitutional objections from signing statements to statements of administration policy suggests again that these statements may be more of an inter-branch dialogue rather than a unilateral tool for shifting policy after congressional enactment.

Professor Ian Ostrander can be contacted at ostran45@msu.edu.
More information about him can be found on his website: https://sites.google.com/site/ianostrander/